In today’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Otero, the CEO and founder of Ad Fontes Media. We talk about her background and how she transitioned from being a patent lawyer to a founder. We discuss news media bias, and how Vanessa is using the Media Bias Chart and Ad Fontes Media to help us all become better media consumers. We discuss her raising capital and crowdfunding. Vanessa shares why it is vital to have a news rating system and how it works. She gives us tips and advice for founders. She shares the vision for Ad Fontes and what’s next.
Here’s a closer look at the episode:
Vanessa’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/vlotero
Vanessa’s Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vanessaotero/
Vanessa Otero (Ad Fontes Media) \\ Helping us become better media consumers
In this era where people are like wondering what's true, wondering what to believe, Ad Fontes seemed like a perfect, perfect name, because we're going to the source, like how to analyze news by looking at the content itself. What we're not doing is looking at opinion polls. We're not asking consumers like, do you trust Fox News? Or do you trust MSNBC? Because the answers you get, they don't tell you about the content. What do they tell you about? They tell you about the person you're asking.
This is Found in the Rockies, a podcast about the startup ecosystem, and the Rocky Mountain region, the founders, funders, and contributors and the stories of what they're building. I'm Les Craig from Next Frontier Capital. And on today's show, we have Vanessa Otero, who is the CEO and founder of Ad Fontes Media. Today, we're going to speak some Latin. And in some of the more exciting content, we'll be talking about news media bias, and how Vanessa is using the Media Bias Chart and Ad Fontes Media to help us all become better media consumers. Hi, Vanessa, thank you so much for joining us today.
Hi, Les. It's great to be here. Thanks so much.
To start off, why don't you tell me a little bit about your personal story and your professional journey, kind of leading up to the founding of Ad Fontes?
Yeah, absolutely. So I live in Westminster, Broomfield area here in Colorado. And I was practicing as a patent attorney at the time when I started Ad Fontes Media. And when I first created the original Media Bias Chart, so I sort of ended up here on accident. I didn't intend to go from this patent lawyer career to start-up founder of a company that rates new sources, but this - the whole journey kind of pulled me towards it. So I went to law school at the University of Denver, the evening program. I was previously working in sales, I worked for about 10 years in sales, B2B, pharmaceutical, lots of different things. My undergrad is in English from UCLA from California. And I, you know, when I moved out to Colorado, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. And I worked at a firm called Neugeboren O'Dowd, some of your listeners may know it, because it's one of the premier IP law firms in Boulder, Colorado. And really enjoyed a great career and love my colleagues there. But I'm a news nerd, and like, sort of just a news junkie, I like news and politics and stuff. And I like to talk to my friends and family about news and politics from time to time. And one of the things that really bothered me about how people would argue online, especially being like an English major, and a lawyer, is people would use memes and like, terrible arguments, or terrible news sources to make their point. Like, they'd say: “Well, I'm write about how Hillary Clinton is the devil, or Donald Trump is a devil because of this meme.”
I saw it in a meme! I saw it in a meme!
Yeah. And I was like, this is how people make decisions? It's terrible. And it's like, you know, short and pithy. You know, people like to share that kind of stuff. So I started, I wrote a blog, called “All generalizations are false - breaking down memes”. And so it was like, very ineffective way you're writing 3000 words about, like, why a meme that you shared is wrong. As you can imagine, no one read this blog.
So is that; can we post the link for that? It sounds fascinating.
It redirects now to Adfontesmedia.com.
Okay, great, but we can we can post that. We'll post that link to that.
Yeah, so all generalizations are false.
I love it.
I thought I came up with it myself. But apparently, like Mark Twain said that.
You're in good company.
Yeah, like in the same ether or whatever. Because it's like, if you think about that statement, that statement is a generalization. So..
I was gonna say that! Like, was the blog a generalization?
Exactly. So like, that is false, like some generalizations are true. Right? So anyways, as I blogged it like, four people would read and but when I was thinking about how people were fighting on the internet, about the new sources, and the toxicity just really seemed so dialed up in the 2016 election. I mean, way worse than it had been before just as a conflagration of like, all these news sources, and you know, Trump versus Hillary and social media and memes and people were like, losing family over this losing friends. I mean, the rate of like, unfriending and like, “Don't even talk to me anymore”. If you think of this, you know, that really bothered, right? Sad, super sad. I mean, like everyone's got a story. Right? About somebody that they've lost or like, just can't communicate with anymore and that I think that's devastating. I always thought like, you know, it has so much to do with the content that you consume, you know, your own, like news bubble, you've heard the term filter bubbles before. And I started thinking about my own news consumption, I'm like, you know, I do kind of go to the same like three, four websites for news every day, and including the opinion ones that I kind of like, and everyone's like that, because you don't have time to read 1000 news sources. So I started thinking about how some of the even the ones I consume, some are better, some are worse. Some are like real and fake. Some people like shared totally fake fabricated stuff. But then other people share things are just like really super opinionated and are not going to convince anybody. And I thought it would be helpful to diagram that on a visual chart, because I'm a huge nerd. And so I would go home at night from my patent lawyer job. And like, research the news, right, I would read a bunch of news sources that I was familiar with, and some ones I wasn't. And I decided to diagram this. Now, I am not a good drawer of things. Like it's not my skill or forte. So…
You don't take courses in in sketching and in law school, you don't know, you know, none of that design? Okay. Just Checking.
None of that. No, I don't. Still to this day, I'm like, not very good at Photoshop at all. So I didn't even use Photoshop to create this first Media Bias Chart. And the whole reason I created it, because it was I just wanted to visually explain like, on two dimensions, like some things are better, and some things are okay, and some things are worse, like top to bottom. And then some things are left and some things are right, as far as the news sources you read, but then other stuff is like way the heck out there. Like really extreme left and extreme right. And I figured a visual would be a great way to explain to people because, again, people like memes, people like infographics, right, but I didn't want it to be some…
People like generalizations.
Right, and people like to share that kind of stuff, and I thought, like, I don't want to be, I don't want to be a dumb meme. Like, I want this to have some depth to it. So I just really spent several weeks, like analyzing stuff and coming up with like, what are these categories? And so I did this on Microsoft Visio, which is the computer program, I used to do software patent drawings, you create, like block diagrams on there. I knew how to like create some blocks, and that’s about it. And it was still is pretty ugly, actually. But I shared it right before the election. And I got like eight shares. I was like, wow, that's a lot. Like nothing I've shared is almost double digits. I know almost nearly 10s of people saw it. But then a couple a couple of weeks later; I was no social media maven, a friend of a friend saw it and shared it, but with like the public share setting, you know, and he, I don't know this guy, he reached out and he's like, I shared your thing. I don't know you, but it got 20,000 shares on my Facebook page. I'm like, Oh, that's cool. So how do you do that? So I shared on my end, and it got like 5,000 shares on my page. And then it like went all over the internet like that 5 million views on Imjur. That's, that's a very long story of like, how this all sort of started. And I can go from there. I got plenty of stories from that point on. But…
Such a, Vanessa, such a fun story. I mean, from daylighting, as a patent attorney to moonlighting as a news and politics junkie nerd like, so cool. So what, at what point did you say, “You know what, like this this day job thing is overrated? I’m done being a lawyer, I want to be a founder,”
I don't know if you know this, but like being a patent attorney is a really good gig.
Don't tell anyone. Don't tell anyone.
I really like that job, and I worked the best firm like to the point where, you know, the University of Denver like her office, I would do like a webinar sessions and like, you know, panels from all the time but like, why it's so great to be a lawyer because I had the greatest gig Neugeboren O'Dowd, you know, great lifestyle, you know, love the partners there. And all your clients are happy because they're inventing stuff, and they pay their bills on time. It’s amazing.
I mean, it's like, you're, it's like, you're the quarterback of like, the Super Bowl, you know, the team that's in the Super Bowl. It's like what like, why, how could you walk away from that?
I know, right? I know, the more I talk about it, right? So yeah, I always loved you know, being a part of the Denver-Boulder startup community. And I always had the sense like, I would love to have this entrepreneurial spirit. Like usually you're not in sales unless you like that kind of thing. And I do like IP one-on-one sessions for you know, accelerators and stuff around town. And I just, I really love having startups as clients and I get to learn a lot about their businesses. And I didn't have a background in software, but I was, I had a pretty general science background. I was pre-med when I was an English major actually. So I got to just work on a lot of different technology areas, meet a lot of different kinds of clients. So I just really love the startup community. And I was like if there's ever you know, if I'm going to do anything else ever, like, startups seem pretty fun. So over the you know, this the end of 2016. This Media Bias Chart got, like really popular. And then it just became this, like all consuming, like blog project and people would reach out to me for stuff like, can we use this? Like, can we print this with a license in our textbook? And I was like, sort of shocked by that because I was like, you know, this is like literally just me right?
But you were you were like the authority for it, because it was your - you created it.
Which is like, a little disturbing, because I like academic rigor and stuff. And I'm like, okay, I think of myself as a pretty smart person. But people will say, like, “Well, isn't this chart bias? Because you're biased?” And I was like, yes. It is. It is totally bias.
You gotta like - put the chart on the chart.
Yeah, exactly. I'm like, I would talk out really well here my political leanings. And like, You got to take that into consideration and stuff. But you're having, you know, published in, you know, an article in a journal when I was in law school, I was like, I have an affinity for academic rigor. I like this, I think it's important. So I was like, How can I make this not biased or mitigate the bias, at least it can't be unbiased. And people would ask me for other things like you teach this, as in teach in a classroom, people would come to our website and make comments about like, you know, can you add this new news source? Or what's the data behind this? And what's the methodology? Those are the questions I get over and over data, methodology, please add more new sources. Gosh, who would be cool if his this was an interactive media bias chart? Well, I'm like, ikay, well, that just sounds expensive. So, over a couple years, I came up, like I refined the methodology. And I was like, how would I would I train others to do this? And like, make it more rigorous? And like, what is the need here? Because the clearly there was some kind of need, and I just had to figure out what it was. And this need for news ratings. Like we have, like this 2016 Media Bias Chart was like this, the most minimal viable product, if there's such thing as an MMVP, that was it. And it's we have, we have ratings for a lot of other things like, including content ratings, like movie theaters, you know, it's PG-13, and R and so, like, you just have a general sense of what you're walking into on some criteria before you do it. And then other stuff that you put into your body like food, but you have a nutrition label for that. Right?
Yeah, I love the analogy. It's great. It's really good.
Yeah, I like to say junk food and junk news are very similar. And there used to be, you know, junk food causes a lot of health epidemics, and a lot of a lot of problems that people don't realize, until we have more information like nutrition labels about what we're putting into our bodies. And now today, we have like better choices, we haven't completely solved the problem of like junk food. It’s still out there, but we have a lot better options today. And but there was a time before nutrition labels existed. So like, we're in a similar kind of thing, where there's a lot of junk news out there. There's just like, your YouTube links and stuff like that. That's like doughnuts and fries.
Yeah, totally. And I, you know, I would even say, you know, you can't underestimate the the negative impact that that that stuff has, even more so than junk food, right? I mean, when you talk about mental health, when you talk about even the brain gut connection, like, you get stressed, leads to other behaviors, like there's a there's a there's I mean, we could that could be a whole season of some some other podcasts. I mean, this this is really, this is really important stuff for well being. I mean, at the highest level.
Yeah, you put it in your brain. I mean, this is stuff that you put in your brain, the content you consume, I mean, how many books are there on like, you know, you are, what your environment is, and your influences and stuff like that. And then we just sort of mindlessly consume this, like news and news-like content, or opinion content, or sometimes really, like outrage content, and without much thought about how it affects us. And that's got to shift. I mean that, especially with 1,000s, and 1,000s of new sources out there, you know, people fall into, I mean, you've seen people get angry and bitter over the years if they just listened to like angry talk radio, right? It happened. I mean, it's like it's imagined, just like putting the same thing into your head for three hours a day. That's just, it has an enormous effect on you. People don't think about it, as much and the news you consume is often not by choice. It's by either habits, or algorithm. Yeah, that's scary. You know? Not even making the choices for yourself.
Yeah. Wow. I mean, it's, it's, well, we're going to talk more about that. Some detail there. But I also want to kind of go back to just you as a founder. I mean, what a what a decision what, uh, you know, just just the brave decision to to go do this full time. Could you like, just tell our listeners a little bit about how that how you calculated that?
Yeah. So you know, I started I formed Ad Fontes Media in February 2018. Because I was like; alright, there's a need here. I'm going to figure out what that is and how to like, monetize that. And although this is a I made a decision at the beginning, that this was going to be a public benefit corporation, which is a legal structure. People might be more familiar with B-corps. It's like the legal structure for eventual B-Corp. And it's for profit, but it has a stated public mission. And I wanted it to be for profit, because I knew I wanted to actually solve the problems in our media landscape. The two biggest ones that they're very related: are misinformation, and extreme polarization. That's why there's like, there's two dimensions on the chart, there's reliability - vertical, and there's bias - horizontal. And those problems are they're different problems, but they're intertwined on so many levels. But to solve this problem, this couldn't be like, some cute, like, you know, donation thing. You know, it couldn't be like, you know, it's a chart. And that's neat. But like, How is this a business? How does it actually solve the problems? You know,
what's the product, right? What's the product? What solution? Are you delivering?
If the need is news ratings then the product has to be some like data and news ratings. It's like it can grow. And gosh, is 1000s and 1000s of new sources out there, and 10s and millions and 10s of 1000s of millions of pieces of content, and more and more every day. How are gonna solve that problem, like on the grand scale? if I want to, I wanted to rate all the news sources. So I was like, though, we got to figure out how to grow this thing. Okay. So…
What if it had to be rated before they could be posted? That would be interesting. I mean I don’t know…like Freedom of Speech and everything, all that good stuff.
Yeah, like if you're like editor was like let’s, run this through the rating system to make sure meets our bias and reliability thresholds. One day, I like how you think Les.
But anyway, yeah, don't get ahead of ourselves. But you needed that kind of scale, you needed to be thinking about that kind of scale. Right?
So this is like part time, again, very good job as a patent lawyer. And my firm, I can't say enough good things about Craig Neugeboren and Sean O'Dowd, the founding partners of Neugeboren O'Dowd. And all my great colleagues there, they knew I had this thing that I was getting some notoriety, I was like, mildly internet famous, which was like, a big deal. And, I would like, talk to them about about it. And so they knew it, was
Was anybody making memes about you, Meme famous.
I get I get yelled at, but I've gotten yelled at by some interesting, folks. So like, on the left…
We don't need it, we don't need to talk about them today.
Oh, you know, it comes with the territory. But they were really, they knew I had this other thing on the side. And I let them know, I like started as a company. And you know, I'm gonna try to grow this. So over the next couple of years, I worked part time, you're still maintaining my practice the beginning of 2020, I officially went part time with Neugeboren O'Dowd, they let me do that, which was, you know, really allowed me some space to work and grow it but like, towards the end, like, you know, and to summer 2020, it was getting to the point where we were starting to have some like big commercial opportunities, and the potential to like, raise some funding. And being a patent lawyer is a really hard job. And so balancing all those things is going to be untenable. So talk to the partners again, and you know, they want me to like spread my wings and fly. So again, really grateful for that. Because, look, I've got, you know, this this career as a patent attorney, I really love but I feel like I can, like change the world in something that I'm really passionate about with this, and I had to do it, like, I don't feel bad for myself, like or like brave for taking the leap. I feel like any person in the world, I have like the cushiest landing pad you could possibly imagine. And if I didn't do this, I'd be kind of squandering this opportunity. And I'd be kind of an asshole for not doing it like I am in a great position. So, you know, I left my firm at the end of 2020. And we had, again, our first commercial opportunities, and started raising some more serious capital. And the first capital we raised was - well from in 2019, we had done like a little Indiegogo fundraiser, like, will people give us money for this interactive media bias chart?
Did you literally do an Indiegogo? Or just kinda that format?
I literally did Indiegogo in the end of 2019. We raised $32,000, in like two months. And this was from like, over 500 people, but 75% of them, I did not know them. And that was like, Okay, people do want this thing. So we hired our first like, our first analysts that were not me. We had 20 of them. I got to I needed 20 analysts, I got 150 applications,
Holy cow, and they were what was the flavor, like, what kinds of what kinds of folks were applying or were interested?
A lot of folks that are like my analysts: now teachers, journalists, PhD students, people who have been in public service, and people who have been like, like, there's, there's a lot of folks who just like really care and are passionate about the news. And I was like, we're not paying very much it was like a $600 stipend or something for this initial project we were going to do, but again, 150 applications. And we we had like, we're looking for reading comprehension skills and add political knowledge as our primary two things. And, but the backgrounds could be varied in other ways, but political diversity and diversity across personal characteristics was really important. So we had to have left, right and center analysts. And so we had him fill out like self rating, you know, political view forms, and, you know, made sure that we have like age, gender racial diversity, because all that is important for mitigating the bias. Right?
By the way, I think that's something that's really it's almost ironic, but but it makes it's very pragmatic at the same time, it's like, how do you create a non-biased approach? Well, you you have to fill out the bias spectrum, right? Basically, you have all the biased opinion. And if you get if you get an equal or sort of, you know, representative of the entire spectrum, then that's how you evaluate like, effectively right?
Yeah, right. Yeah. And it's a lot of interest to folks like how we actually rate this, especially how we rate new sources. And today, we have a we have 35 analysts and they are all these backgrounds, like I mentioned, like, you know, teachers, journalists, a lot of graduate students, finer programs, like PhD students, and they're all like super sharp, really thoughtful, really care about our mission, they’re the best, they're the best like they give you, they give you like hope for what America could be because a left a right and a center person sit on a shift in, they're from all over the country for three hours at a time. And they rate a bunch of news articles together. And they're about all the different political topics, including the most polarizing ones like Trump and race and abortion, and everything. And they have a methodology, we have a methodology and a rubric and looking at specific factors. And the granularity of it is what allows for the mitigation of the bias because like, you know, go back to “all generalizations are false”, right? If you say: “the media is this”. Like what are you even talking abou? The media is a big thing comprised of millions of…This is, we are the media right now. You know, but even if you talk about like the mainstream media, okay, who is that, like, you talk about Fox, or CNN or MSNBC, like each of those have like all the different shows and the personalities, and they have different articles and stuff. So you can have you heard it, you have left, right center person, they're looking at one article from CNN, and it is a left leaning opinion article. And they all say that is a left leaning opinion article and has this score. They agree, right? Because we're looking at one article. And then they look at another article also from CNN. And this is a middle factor 40 article, and they give it the same score, right. So yeah, that's how we break it down to that level. And that's how we can mitigate by by getting granular. That's how you got to do it.
Cool. So I actually want to shift gears a little bit. It's something I wanted to talk about at the very beginning, but we've got into a great a great discussion. So I just let it kind of go. Yeah, I want to talk about the name. And before we do, I don't know if you know this or not, but about 20 years ago, I was quite the Latin scholar. So yeah, so I said I studied Latin in high school for three and a half years.Doing my best to impress Mr. Grieving, my high school Latin teacher, right now. So I'm going to try a translation here. So “Fontes” third declension masculine and fontes would be the dative case ad would be the preposition too so and it means fountain fountain is the translation so, “To the fountain” Yes? How did I do?
Excellent. You are a latin nerd after my own heart, I'm so pleased…. Oh, man, I
Mr. Grieving would be proud of both of us.
He would. I have got to, I should run this by Dr. Laun and my Latin instructor. But yeah, there's only one Latin instructor at the whole school always. Right? So yeah, yes. From eighth grade, actually from seventh into 11th grade. I took Latin. Yeah, yeah. I love words.
So you could probably speak it by the time..I could never I could only read and write that's usually pretty typical for a Latin student.
Right. And you know, it's not the most useful, they teach you that like Cassius has six pigs, you know, that’s the kind of Latin that you lear. Yeah. So Ad Fontes, as you know, it means to the fountain or less literal translation would be to the source. And when I was coming out for I didn't want to have the word news in the name. I just thought that was too like obvious. So and I was you know, patents and trademarks, you know, so you get has something distinctive. So Ad Fontes in the Reformation, and the Renaissance during both of those periods. It was sort of like a call to action during times where people were seeking the truth. And in the Reformation, that's, you know, it was Ad Fontes - go to the source, go to the text, which in that case was the Bible. If people didn't read before they're like, read the Bible yourself to figure it out. Figure out what's going on. Don't just listen to the church in the Renaissance era era, it was go back to the texts, classical texts to figure out truth. And so in this era, where people are like wondering what's true, wondering what to believe, Ad Fontes seemed like a perfect, a perfect name, because we're going to the source, like how to analyze news by looking at the content itself. What we're not doing is looking at opinion polls. We're not asking consumers like, do you trust Fox News? Or do you trust MSNBC? Because the answers you get? They don't tell you about the content? What did they tell you about? They tell you about the person you're asking right? So half the people do, because they're Democrats and half people don't because they are Republicans? Like that doesn't make any sense. What does the source say? So we go to the source, we do content analysis is our methodology and the end. It's like the core of what we do. And that's why it's our name.
Yes, brilliant. I love it. It's, it's, it's, it's perfect. Uh, you know, another interesting thing, like what it calls to mind for me, I lived in Italy for two years. And, you know, every Italian town and I mean, I imagine Roman towns were the same way. But they they all have a fountain, but lots of fountains. I mean, Rome is the City of Fountains, right. But the fountains were also places where people gathered. That's where the community came together to announce things, talk about things. And like, what I think about is like there’s stats, unfortunately, today, there's so much of that missing, like, people aren't going to the fountain like to the community, to identify, hear other opinions. It's like, we hide behind this wall of media. And whether it's social media, or the internet, or whatever it is, but that's something that also comes to mind. We need to get back out to the fountain a little bit, you know.
You know, I love that. I love that as an alternate explanation and meaning for you know, getting people out there and talking to each other. And, you know, when you see like, the thing that gives me hope and optimism, in the face of like reading all this, like garbage, you know, day in and day out, is like when you see our analysts, you know, coming together, and like having these really reasoned and spirited discussions with each other, and like, like, full of respect, and like willing to have their, you know eyes opened, and their views challenged. And you know, when, like that's - it's sort of hard. It's hard work. And we're not used to doing that. But yeah, if we could do that more, we could solve one of the biggest problems, which is this extreme polarization and division.
Is that part of I mean, you know, when companies talk about like, their big, hairy, audacious goal, you know, or like, like, the vision or the mission, like, is that is that at all part of what you're doing? What you're trying to do as a company?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I talked about, you know, this tearing people apart, like tearing people's families apart. That's real. You know, people ask us a lot of questions. One of the questions they ask is like, “how do you tell what's true in in the news?” Big answer to that, right? There's, you know, there's, there's a lot to that. The other one we get, which is like, sort of that bothers me a lot. And we don't really have the answer to yet is “how do I reach my family member who's just gone off the deep end? Like I just, they, they're, like, have no bearing on like, you know, reality?” And it's sort of like, do you think of like 12-Step programs for like, addiction to alcohol or drugs or gambling and that, like, you can get addicted to conspiracy theories and like fake news. And it really wrapped people in and we don't have like a, there's there aren't any proven methodologies for how to like, have an intervention that's effective for that. So our mission, making news consumers smarter and making news media better, it's really about fixing the news ecosystem, and about about, you know, cleaning up a big mess like solving the problems of misinformation and polarization. And that's a huge, huge problem. So you know, how I view our approach is like, you can't just have one silver bullet to solve these things. It's not like you can just say, it's not like, you can just say, well, the social media companies, if we just passed a law, like fix section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and the there would be less misinformation like that's just there's so many barriers to…
It’s a throw away it is a throw away. Like you okay, you do that. And then now what other Oh, creepy monster, you know develops?
Yes. There's like, it's such an intricate ecosystem with so many stakeholders, and so many competing incentives. That's how it arose in the first place. Right? You who are the stakeholders in the system, you publishers, right? Publishers are in this new digital world. They gotta get subscriptions. They gotta have ad revenue. Right? So might they use more click-baity headlines? Yeah, like, what how do they solve for that? There's the social media companies, of course. But then there's also the advertisers that advertise on publishers. You know, their money is funding, good journalism, and misinformation. They’re funding fact reporting, and they're funding, like outrage content. And often are not distinguishing between the two, right? The demise of local journalism is attributable to, in part, or and good journalism, to the fact that like, the way money flows to, to advertisers, isn't always in line with like, how it should be. So that there's and then there's educators, like, how do we teach media literacy, and people can point to like, oh, we just need to teach more media literacy, and that will solve the problem. But what about everyone who's like, not in school or not going to take that class? Like, they also need to know, you know, if the vaccines have 5G in them or not, like, and they..so there's all these stakeholders and what view ours is a fundamental way to address the problems of various stakeholders have.
For sure. It's like, you know, I go back to the Latin mythology of this, it's like the Hydra, you know, yeah, all these different heads, you cut one off. And it's like, well, then, like three more grow in its place. It's a wicked complex space.
I like complex problems. That's why I became a patent lawyer. And I found something even harder. I know, it's like, a science lawyer.
So speaking, speaking of IP, how's, uh, do you got a good IP strategy for Ad Fontes? I mean, like, Is it locked down pretty good?
I'd like to say so yeah. I mean, I jumped on that patent thing, pretty early. And you know, your copyrights and trademarks are strictly a part of that strategy as well, because the Media Bias Chart is really recognizable. Media Bias, that’s what people just started calling it. I actually called it like a news quality chart to begin with. Yeah. But yeah.
What advice would you give? You know, it's rare that we have a former patent attorney on the podcast, you're unique, because you're both a founder and a former patent attorney. What advice would you give to founders? Because this sometimes comes up? It's like, what should I do? Or what should I be thinking about? At the earliest of stages? When it comes IP?
Well, yeah, this is a, it's a chicken and egg problem, as is everything in being a startup, right? Like, which one do you do first, like if you need money to get patents and any patents to get money, and, you know, oh, it's the same thing with customers. And same thing with products and all that stuff. But I give the same advice I gave to my own clients, when I was a patent attorney. Look, patents are expensive. Like there's there's copyrights, there’s trademarks, and patents, and like copyrights being the least expensive and trademarks, and the most Do It Yourself. Trademarks being like the like middle middle of the road, like you can DIY, but then you might run into trouble later, but you could figure it out. And it's like, those aren't as expensive. And patents are like, you don't want to do it yourself. Definitely don't do that. And they're expensive, right? So but then there's like, different, they protect different things. And, you know, if you've got, if you've got a method, some software, hardware device, a app, you know, things that you need to protect the utility of, then you do want to seek out that that IP protection, and you want to do it early, as early on as possible. But if you're like really, really strapped for resources, and you have to choose between, like having a patent and having a product, you have to have a product, you know, I mean, you have to build a product and a business. Like if you I heard it explained to me like the best in this way, the best thing is if you have a patent and a product, right? In a business round, and if you have a product with no patent, you can still have a business. If you have a patent, but no product, you don't have a business. Right? So and there are ways that you can like, some like lower cost ways that you can start protecting ideas like provisional patents are great, a provisional patent application is like, like a placeholder for a year that you can, you know, it's it's lower cost. It's not examined by the patent office, you have a year like fully fully developed it out. But it gives you like a priority date, a filing date because you know, it and and a patent a patent application is better is going to be better than NDA for protecting something that's truly, truly unique and something that others will want would want a copy.
Very cool. Great, great. Just Oh, you know, opinion on that. So thank you for sharing.
This is not legal advice.
Alright, that's why I said opinion. I almost said “Great advice”.
Please consult a qualified attorney. I recommend my former firm.
It's always great to share some best, best best best practices. So yeah. What about on the back to the founder journey, kind of where you are today? I mean, I've been impressed to just watch, watch you as a founder, like what you've done, the traction you've gotten, where are you today? And kind of what's what's going on?
Yeah, so I mentioned that in the end of 2020, we started having some good commercial opportunities. So we had some good pilot programs and some like service contracts from like larger companies that were like, “We want you to rate the news.” And that was like a dream to me because when I first when I first started, like first pitch decks, you know, pre-founding of the company for like, what we're going to do, I think get to this one slide and be like, and then people are gonna pay us to rate the news. And then my friends and family are like, “Cool, who is gonna pay you to rate the news?” Who is they? I'm like, I'm not sure. But someone, someone will pay us to rate the news there. Yeah, I didn't, we didn't, I didn't know at the time, but we had, you know, publishers and, you know, in schools and other like players in the media ecosystem, you know, paying us for our ratings and our data for the first time. And at that time, we launched a an equity crowdfunding round, and it's different from the Indiegogo, Indiegogo is like donations and for mugs and shirts and stuff. But a year later, we did equity crowdfunding through a platform called WeFunder. I don't know, equity crowdfunding is fairly new, you know, laws came out in 2016, to allow for it where you can advertise for your your round. And you can under regulation CF, you can get investments from non-accredited investors as well as an as accredited. And because it's new, you know, I think a lot of even a lot of VCs now will look at it and be like, I'm not so sure about that, you know, we don't know, or look for companies that do it that way. But for us, look, we're a company that's trying to do some good in the world. I'm a first time founder, female, you know, it's raising money is hard. But we have this advantage, which was like, people love us. A lot of people love us. And I had a big email list. So equity crowdfunding sounded like pretty appealing. And we raised our goal was $250,000, we raised $350,000, which is like a good chunk of change that from like September to about February.
Yeah, it’s like 50%. oversubscribed, basically.
Yeah, it was on a SAFE, you know, and the investors could come in for as little as $100. But we had some, like substantial angel investors kick in you know $10, $20, $30,000, in that round too, you know, so at the beginning, we didn't know you, when I left my firm, I was like, let's see if we could do this for three months. And, and it worked out, we raised some money. After that we raised in another SAFE for privately another $450,000. So we've raised about $800, so far. And that's really carried us to where we are today. So we've been able to take those first initial commercial opportunities and to turn it into like a recurring revenue model. It's it's ratings as a service. It's news ratings, and our ratings data underlies like what we provide to folks, but we provide it in ways that are useful to them. So our main markets are the advertising industry, because customers that are brands and agencies that want to use our data to do media planning, but within the media industry, there's other players such as like the, like the pipes of the system, you know, there's a lot of technology companies like DSPs, and data platforms that have a lot of data on who to advertise to and where to advertise to, but they don't have this kind of data on news and news like sources. So we integrate it through an API into some of these platforms now, and so folks can like just by our data sort of off off the shelf as as is on a subscription basis. So that what the Media Bias Chart looks like today, if you go to our website, go to our interactive.
Yeah, we’ll put the link, put the link in the notes. So yeah, you can go to the website…
Interactive Media Bias Chart, it's a free version. And you can search for any of the 1,400+ news sources that we've got rated on there. And it just like pop right up that's paid with the free versions paywall so you know, after like five per day, you gotta pay for it in some way or another. But it's like our pro version for our clients, like our school and our business clients, you can really see like, all the different sources we've got on there and like unlimited search, and you can download the data, and you can get it fed though our API. So it's so these companies can use it in various different ways. Like, for example, a school will use it for media literacy lessons, like their whole library, the librarian will buy and their teachers will have like media literacy lessons that we provide around like, you know, here's comparing and contrasting a middle of the road story versus really left leaning one or a really right leaning one?
Because quite frankly, I mean, the way the news works, right? Like you could very easily like the same story is written by two different sources. And that's what they can, that's what you can rate it and they can compare the difference. It’s fascinating.
Yeah. And we actually have a new activity that we put out publicly now. It's called a topic of the week. And we'll do it we started doing this initially for schools where we'll take like nine articles about the same general topic and from a bunch of different news sources, and then rate them on the on the Media Bias Chart and see how differently they're covered. But we ultimately want students to be able to do this for themselves and individuals because we don't just want people to take our word for it. We want them to be able to discern this stuff for themselves, but we're here as a as a service because, you know, not everybody has time to rate all the news themselves, that's what we do. So that's why like, when it comes to the volume, we have our eyes on this volume of, of new sources. And that's what's available through our datasets. So like someone can use it, like they can just visualize on the chart and download our data and make decisions themselves. But where it’s really powerful is in these ad tech data platforms where they can use it in like real time to make decisions on, you know, targeting certain content and suppressing other content that's not aligned.
Such a fascinating development. I mean, I'm sure there'll be more to come just in terms of you know, use cases, product market fit. Really exciting, Vanessa, yeah. What what do you what can you tell us about the future? What's ahead any any surprises or reveals or anything exciting you want to share about the company coming up?
Yeah, a couple of things. One, we just got featured as a one of the 22 Startups to Watch for 2022 in Colorado.
Wow! Congrats. Amazing.
Yeah, I'm pretty excited about that. And you probably saw this but this last last week, there was some study came up about Colorado being the top state for a woman founded companies in terms of like VC deals. And so I just feel really fortunate to be in Colorado at this time where we are, and we're raising a new round. So we are, we've got a series seed round to spur our next stage of growth. It's a one and a half million dollar round. And we're right in the middle of closing it.
We look forward to following and tracking and I'm sure you know, stay tuned probably for that announcement. That's exciting.
Yeah, yeah, we're super excited about that. And this is gonna allow us to grow our data sources so we can become more valuable and you grow are you got a lot of as you can imagine, you know, product in the technology improvements to make and your go to market strategy to execute. You know, it's, I'm really like in the thick of this, you know, founder thing. So it's, it's quite the ride.
Well, I gotta say, you're, you're playing the part quite well. I mean, it's, it's amazing to hear the story, Vanessa. And I mean, the journey is just just one of the more more inspiring ones that we've had on the show. So thank you for sharing.
Well, thank you. I mean, it really pleasure to talk to you about this. You can probably tell I love talking about my business. So I appreciate. Yeah, what founder doesn't? You know, give a founder a microphone and you have to like wrestle it back.
The best! Those are the best episodes.
You know a podcast is like, so much better than a pitch. A pitch, you know, “tell your story in five minutes”. You're like five minutes. Oh, kill me. I mean, this is like, it's torture to try to distill everything down in a 10 slide deck.
Awesome. Well, great job on the show today. Thank you so much for being on. Could you please tell our audience where they can find you and Ad Fontes Media online?
Yeah, just go to AdFontesMedia.com. That's Adfontsmedia.com. And then you just search for me Vanessa Otero on LinkedIn. I'm on there all the time. If you Google the Media Bias Chart, you'll see you know, some imitators and whatnot but most of the stuff that comes up is us, so you can find your way just with Media Bias Chart.
Well in the spirit of of Latin nerds like ourselves out there. I think that is “finis”.
Yep. “Carpe Diem”
“Carpe Diem” Um, there it is. Thanks Vanessa. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Found in the Rockies. You can find links in the show notes or go to our podcast page at nextfrontiercapital.com to get links and contact information for today's guests. If you like what you heard and want more, please rate, review, and subscribe to get notified as our new episodes drop. We'll see you next time.
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